Posts Tagged Psychology Research

Lucid dreamers help scientists locate the seat of meta-consciousness in the brain


ScienceDaily (July 27, 2012) — Studies of lucid dreamers show which centers of the brain become active when we become aware of ourselves in dreams.

Which areas of the brain help us to perceive our world in a self-reflective manner is difficult to measure. During wakefulness, we are always conscious of ourselves. In sleep, however, we are not. But there are people, known as lucid dreamers, who can become aware of dreaming during sleep. Studies employing magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) have now been able to demonstrate that a specific cortical network consisting of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the frontopolar regions and the precuneus is activated when this lucid consciousness is attained. All of these regions are associated with self-reflective functions. This research into lucid dreaming gives the authors of the latest study insight into the neural basis of human consciousness.

The human capacity of self-perception, self-reflection and consciousness development are among the unsolved mysteries of neuroscience. Despite modern imaging techniques, it is still impossible to fully visualize what goes on in the brain when people move to consciousness from an unconscious state. The problem lies in the fact that it is difficult to watch our brain during this transitional change. Although this process is the same, every time a person awakens from sleep, the basic activity of our brain is usually greatly reduced during deep sleep. This makes it impossible to clearly delineate the specific brain activity underlying the regained self-perception and consciousness during the transition to wakefulness from the global changes in brain activity that takes place at the same time.

Scientists from the Max Planck Institutes of Psychiatry in Munich and for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and from Charité in Berlin have now studied people who are aware that they are dreaming while being in a dream state, and are also able to deliberately control their dreams. Those so-called lucid dreamers have access to their memories during lucid dreaming, can perform actions and are aware of themselves – although remaining unmistakably in a dream state and not waking up. As author Martin Dresler explains, “In a normal dream, we have a very basal consciousness, we experience perceptions and emotions but we are not aware that we are only dreaming. It’s only in a lucid dream that the dreamer gets a meta-insight into his or her state.”

By comparing the activity of the brain during one of these lucid periods with the activity measured immediately before in a normal dream, the scientists were able to identify the characteristic brain activities of lucid awareness.

“The general basic activity of the brain is similar in a normal dream and in a lucid dream,” says Michael Czisch, head of a research group at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry. “In a lucid state, however, the activity in certain areas of the cerebral cortex increases markedly within seconds. The involved areas of the cerebral cortex are the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, to which commonly the function of self-assessment is attributed, and the frontopolar regions, which are responsible for evaluating our own thoughts and feelings. The precuneus is also especially active, a part of the brain that has long been linked with self-perception.” The findings confirm earlier studies and have made the neural networks of a conscious mental state visible for the first time.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Martin Dresler, Renate Wehrle, Victor I. Spoormaker, Stefan P. Koch, Florian Holsboer, Axel Steiger, Hellmuth Obrig, Philipp G. Sämann, Michael Czisch. Neural Correlates of Dream Lucidity Obtained from Contrasting Lucid versus Non-Lucid REM Sleep: A Combined EEG/fMRI Case Study. Sleep, 2012;35(7):1017-1020

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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

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Decoding the secrets of balance


ScienceDaily (July 26, 2012) — If you have ever looked over the edge of a cliff and felt dizzy, you understand the challenges faced by people who suffer from symptoms of vestibular dysfunction such as vertigo and dizziness. There are over 70 million of them in North America. For people with vestibular loss, performing basic daily living activities that we take for granted (e.g. dressing, eating, getting in and out of bed, getting around inside as well as outside the home) becomes difficult since even small head movements are accompanied by dizziness and the risk of falling.

We’ve known for a while that a sensory system in the inner ear (the vestibular system) is responsible for helping us keep our balance by giving us a stable visual field as we move around. And while researchers have already developed a basic understanding of how the brain constructs our perceptions of ourselves in motion, until now no one has understood the crucial step by which the neurons in the brain select the information needed to keep us in balance.

The way that the brain takes in and decodes information sent by neurons in the inner ear is complex. The peripheral vestibular sensory neurons in the inner ear take in the time varying acceleration and velocity stimuli caused by our movement in the outside world (such as those experienced while riding in a car that moves from a stationary position to 50 km per hour). These neurons transmit detailed information about these stimuli to the brain (i.e. information that allows one to reconstruct how these stimuli vary over time) in the form of nerve impulses.

Scientists had previously believed that the brain decoded this information linearly and therefore actually attempted to reconstruct the time course of velocity and acceleration stimuli. But by combining electrophysiological and computational approaches, Kathleen Cullen and Maurice Chacron, two professors in McGill University’s Department of Physiology, have been able to show for the first time that the neurons in the vestibular nuclei in the brain instead decode incoming information nonlinearly as they respond preferentially to unexpected, sudden changes in stimuli.

It is known that representations of the outside world change at each stage in this sensory pathway. For example, in the visual system neurons located closer to the periphery of the sensory system (e.g. ganglion cells in the retina) tend to respond to a wide range of sensory stimuli (a “dense” code), whereas central neurons (e.g. in the primary visual cortex at the back of the head tend to respond much more selectively (a “sparse” code). Chacron and Cullen have discovered that the selective transmission of vestibular information they were able to document for the first time occurs as early as the first synapse in the brain. “We were able to show that the brain has developed this very sophisticated computational strategy to represent sudden changes in movement in order to generate quick accurate responses and maintain balance,” explained Prof. Cullen. “I keep describing it as elegant, because that’s really how it strikes me.”

This kind of selectivity in response is important for everyday life, since it enhances the brain’s perception of sudden changes in body posture. So that if you step off an unseen curb, within milliseconds, your brain has both received the essential information and performed the sophisticated computation needed to help you readjust your position. This discovery is expected to apply to other sensory systems and eventually to the development of better treatments for patients who suffer from vertigo, dizziness, and disorientation during their daily activities. It should also lead to treatments that will help alleviate the symptoms that accompany motion and/or space sickness produced in more challenging environments.

The research was conducted by Corentin Massot a Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physiology, and Adam Schneider a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Physics.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by McGill University.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Corentin Massot, Adam D. Schneider, Maurice J. Chacron, Kathleen E. Cullen. The Vestibular System Implements a Linear–Nonlinear Transformation In Order to Encode Self-Motion. PLoS Biology, 2012; 10 (7): e1001365 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001365

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

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